“Your sins are forgiven!” These words bring consolation to those of us who understand that we need forgiveness, and who understand that we have sinned. For someone who has not understood either sin or forgiveness, it could seem like mere words or like something unimportant. We don’t know exactly what thoughts passed through the mind of the paralytic because he remained silent, but Jesus’ first words to him were not about curing his paralysis. The man didn’t seem to ask for forgiveness, nor did he seem to come to Jesus looking for anything other than a cure. Certainly Jesus reads hearts and minds, however, and provides the man immediately with the treatment that corresponds to his greatest suffering. The physical suffering may have incited the man to ask to be brought to Jesus, then again, the man may have discerned the greater moral suffering he endured from his sins and relied on his physical disability to be brought by others to Jesus.
What is so significant about this particular healing is that Jesus is almost nonchalant about the physical aspect. It almost seems as if Jesus was prepared to leave this man in his condition after forgiving his sins: if it weren’t for the scribes doubting Jesus authority to forgive sins, He might not have even healed this man physically. Once sins are forgiven, and faith in that forgiveness is solidified, Jesus has accomplished His mission. Those who are awaiting a physical healing may of course do so, and even pray for that healing! But if the same persons are not ready to forgive and be forgiven of their sins by God, any physical healing would be incomplete and superficial. Physical healing is a sign of hope for the profound healing that comes from God’s mercy and forgiveness.
GREGORY THE GREAT:
With the eyes of my faith open, I gaze on David, on Amos, on Daniel, on Peter, on Paul, on Matthew—and I am filled with a desire to behold the nature of this worker, the Holy Spirit. But I fall short. The Spirit filled a boy who played upon the harp, and made him a psalmist; on a shepherd and herdsman who pruned sycamore trees, and made him a prophet; on a child given to abstinence, and made him a judge of his elders; on a fisherman, and made him a preacher; on one who persecuted the church, and made him the teacher of the Gentiles; on a tax collector, and made him an Evangelist. What a skilled worker this Spirit is! There is no question of delay in learning what the Spirit teaches us. No sooner does the Spirit touch our minds in regard to anything than we are taught; the Spirit’s very touch is teaching. The Spirit changes the human heart in a moment, filling it with light. Suddenly we are no longer what we were; suddenly we are something we never used to be.1
If the spirit of prophecy had always been present to the prophets, the prophet Amos when asked would never have said, “I am no prophet”; he even adds, “neither a prophet’s son, but I am a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit.” How then was he no prophet who foretold so many true things concerning the future? Or in what way was he a prophet if he at the time disowned the truth concerning himself? At the moment that he was called in question, he felt that the spirit of prophecy was not with him. He bore true testimony concerning himself in saying, “I am not a prophet.” Yet he added afterward, “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. Therefore thus said the Lord, ‘Your wife shall be a harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line, and you shall die in a polluted land.’ ” By these words of the prophet it is plainly shown that while he was bearing that testimony about himself he was filled, and on the instant rewarded with the spirit of prophecy, because he humbly acknowledged himself to be no prophet.2
On seeing him, the Gerasenes entreated the Lord to depart from their district. Such people are also to be found among us. Out of faithlessness they compel the Lord and Savior of the world to depart from the district of their hearts. According to Scripture, “The Holy Spirit will not enter a perverse soul or dwell in a body enslaved to sin.”3
Note in this regard, my brothers, that God does not inquire into the wants of those who are deliriously ill. He does not wait to see the faith of the ignorant or probe the senseless wishes of the sick. Yet he does not refuse to help the faith of another, so that by grace alone he confers whatever is proper of the divine will. In fact, my brothers, when does a doctor ever inquire into or examine the wishes of those who are ailing, for a patient is prone to be of a contrary mind in his wishes and demands?4
The paralytic is a descendent of the original man, Adam. In one person, Christ, all the sins of Adam are forgiven. In this case the person to be healed is brought forward by ministering angels. In this case, too, he is called a son, because he is God’s first work. The sins of his soul are forgiven him, and pardon of the first transgression is granted. We do not believe the paralytic committed any sin [that resulted in his illness], especially since the Lord said elsewhere that blindness from birth had not been contracted from someone’s sin or that of his parents.5
And surely if there was any cause to be annoyed it would have been felt by the suffering paralytic, because it seemed that he had been almost completely bypassed. Imagine him complaining, as if he were thinking: “I came to receive healing, but now you are talking about my sins being forgiven. How do you know this? Why do you change the subject?” But in fact the paralytic now says nothing of the sort. Rather, he gives himself over to the authority of the One who heals.
But those who are malicious and all too full of themselves are always plotting against the good works of others. Therefore he chides them but does so in all fairness, as if to say, “For if you disbelieved in my first statement and thought that it was boasting, consider that I am adding something else to it: the revelation of your secrets.”6
Hence there is a bodily sign in order to demonstrate a spiritual sign, though its impact is to curb the imperfections of body and soul. And we are given an understanding of sin and many bodily weaknesses to come. Perhaps, too, sins are forgiven first, so that with the causes of infirmity removed health may be restored.7
- FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 30. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (pp. 109–110). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- MORALS ON THE BOOK OF JOB 1.2.89. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 110). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 43.7. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 173). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 50.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 174). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON MATTHEW 8.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 174). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 29.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 174). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 1.9.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 175). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.